Orecchiette with Homemade Fennel Sausage and Swiss Chard Recipe
A classic Italian pasta recipe via Los Angeles
On our recent trip to Chef Fest — Made In America, a chef-studded food and cooking event at Hawaii's Four Seasons Resort Hualalei, we learned to make this orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe, a classic Italian comfort food mastered by Osteria Mozza Executive Chef (and 2012 James Beard Award Best New Chef) Matt Molina.
The sausage part of the recipe calls for more than is needed for the pasta. This is a freebie, use it as you will: patties, sausage-spiked tomato sauce, omelets, jalapeño poppers, you name it. If you're making sausage from scratch, make a lot and freeze the remainder. Ask your butcher to grind the pork and fatback so all you have to do is mix it up. Fennel pollen may be hard to find even in a specialty market, so call ahead or order it online. It's pricey, but intensely delicious.
For the chard:
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and chiles, and season with salt. Sauté for about 10 minutes, adding water to the pan (as much as 1 cup total), stirring often to prevent the vegetables browning.
- Add the chard leaves, season with salt, and fold the leaves in with the onion for 1 or 2 minutes to wilt them slightly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the chard leaves are very dark green and the onion, leaves and stems are one soft, homogenous mixture.
- Turn the vegetables out onto a cutting board, finely chop and set aside.
For the sausage:
- Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a very large mixing bowl using your hands. Cover until ready to use and freeze the remainder in sturdy freezer bags.
For the sauce:
- Heat a sauté pan over high heat until it’s very hot. Add the sausage to the pan and cook it undisturbed for about 2 minutes, until the meat is seared. Stir the meat and cook for another 4 minutes, breaking it into pea-sized pieces, until it is cooked through.
- Add the chopped chard and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to warm it through, stirring the chard into the sausage as it cooks.
- Sprinkle the pepper over the chard and sausage, add the chicken stock, and cook the sauce for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, to bring the ingredients together. Add the butter, stir until it melts, and turn off the heat while you cook the pasta.
For the pasta:
- Fill a pasta pot or large stockpot with 6 quarts of water, add 6 tablespoons of salt, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. If you are not using a pasta pot, place a colander in the sink or have a large wire strainer handy to lift the pasta out of the pot.
- Remove the orecchiette from the refrigerator or the freezer and drop them into the boiling water. Stir to prevent the pasta from sticking together, partially cover the pot so the water returns to a boil quickly and continues boiling, and cook the pasta until it’s al dente, about 2 minutes. Alternately, use dried pasta and cook according to directions. About 1 minute before the pasta is done, place the sauce over high heat. Lift the pasta out of the cooking water or drain it and immediately add it to the pan with the sauce.
- Cook the pasta with the sauce together for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the sauce is thick, adding fresh water to the pan if the pasta looks dry or sticky instead of slippery and glistening.
- Turn off the heat and add the finishing-quality olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fennel pollen, stirring vigorously and shaking the pan to emulsify the sauce.
Pile the orecchiette in the center of each of eight plates, dividing it evenly, and spoon any sauce left in the pan over the pasta. Sprinkle a generous spoon of bread crumbs over each serving, and serve with the remaining bread crumbs on the side.
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